Things to Know About Hiring a Search Firm

A new report by CEO Worldwide presents the key benefits of calling in an executive search firm and what to consider when doing so. Top executive recruiters also weigh in. It’s a Hunt Scanlon exclusive!

July 19, 2018 – Hiring top executives who can both effectively manage and lead an organization is a major challenge. When a company makes vital senior-level appointments, the risks are high.

For top roles, the base salary is typically more than $150,000.

When searching, organizations will be looking for the most suitable candidate who checks off all the boxes, including educational qualifications and work experience, hard and soft skills and their ability to fit in with a specific culture. Finding just the right professional is oftentimes a monumental task.

“Since the overall success of the organization largely depends on the top executive, such as CEO or general manager, the selection process has to be remarkably rigorous and time-consuming,” according to a new report by recruitment firm CEO Worldwide.

Often, organizations are unprepared to undergo a meticulous executive search and recruitment process. And some have never gone through it at all. “In such a scenario, hiring a professional executive search firm happens to be the best bet for the organization,” said CEO Worldwide. “Such firms specialize in hiring professionals for top-level positions and are experienced in effectively handling the issues arising from recruiting executives at this level.” These issues more often than not include tapping into a limited pool of candidates.

What’s more, senior-level executives are regarded as the “cream” of the organization and, very rarely, do companies easily part with them. An international executive recruitment firm, however, has the expertise to pool the best candidates and recruit them from across different organizations, industries and functions.

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Benefits of Executive Recruiters

Most organizations prefer recruiting top-level executives through their internal selection process, considering board members, personal networks, employee references and current personnel. “However, there are several benefits of hiring an executive recruitment firm when you are looking for a new top- level executive who can both manage and lead the organization more effectively,” the report said. “This is especially true when the organization is facing unexpected and new challenges, and rapid growth.”

When you are looking for highly competent top executives, there is no substitute for an executive search firm, which performs extensive outreach to the most qualified and experienced talent for an organization. “It is difficult to pool top-level executives due to limited availability,” CEO Worldwide said. “Existing employers are generally not ready to lose their top leaders and as such, pamper them with the best of perks and benefits. In such a scenario, often the most qualified professionals are gainfully pooled; they may not necessarily be looking for a change.” What executive search firms are best at doing is bringing these passive candidates into the open.

Confidentiality and objectivity ­are two of the most important factors that a search firm brings to the table. “Since a search firm is a third party, there is no risk of qualms arising with regard to a potential candidate,” the report said. “The objective of a search firm is also beneficial while conducting a reference check on a candidate. Most organizations demand absolute confidentiality for avoiding publicizing a senior management role.”

Things to Know

Professional search firms harness effective resume screening tools and possess vast interview expertise that helps in streamlining the recruitment process, said the report. They have experience and knowledge in sourcing, interviewing and recruiting top-level executives, while narrowing down the process so that clients maintain sight of their core objectives. With executive recruitment companies, organizations can also search internationally for top-level positions. The firms have extensive outreach and have experience in pooling candidates globally.

Professional executive search firms have expert career recruiters, with vast experience in recruiting for high-level positions. Before hiring, however, consider these important factors:

Role of the Search Firm –­ Typically, a search firm has the expertise to identify qualifications and responsibilities necessary for a given position. Make sure that the firm has the knowledge and experience in assessing the qualifications of a potential candidate against the requirements of the position to determine how his/her experience, skill-set and personality would help in building a mutually beneficial relationship with the company. The firm should also be able to help the client organization communicate and negotiate with the most qualified candidates.

13 Rules for Getting the Most Out of Your Executive Search Firm
In many organizations, recruitment for top echelon positions is time-consuming, expensive and often even contentious when decision-makers aren’t on the same page. For most businesses, retained search firms offer the best answer to filling senior-level positions.

Interim Management –­ For recruiting top-level executives in a more flexible manner, many organizations look for hiring interim managers. Check whether the executive recruitment firm offers interim management services. The firm should also be able to handle all administrative issues pertaining to the placement of the interim manager. At the same time, the search firm should ensure speed, objectivity, experience, commitment and accountability while recruiting a senior manager on a temporary basis.

Reputation and Experience –­ Hire only an experienced and reputable executive search firm that has vast knowledge and expertise in the field of sourcing and recruiting top executives and CEOs for different organizations. Check their track record before you proceed. “Hiring a top executive recruitment and interim management firm certainly ensures a good value for your money, providing the best talent pool for senior-level positions in your organization,” CEO Worldwide said. 

Top Executive Recruiters Weigh In

Of course, no one has the inside track on the power of executive recruiters better than . . . well, executive recruiters. Here’s what a selection of some of the best recruiters from across the nation believe to be the top considerations when hiring an executive search firm.

“Our best clients are the smartest and most informed coming into the search engagement,” said Jason Hanold, managing partner at Hanold Associates. “We help with that, and they do their own homework before engaging in the process.”

Mr. Hanold offered some advice to a potential client or to those evaluating search firms: “Do not be overly concerned about whether the executive search firm is a boutique vs. a large multinational outfit.  It’s all about your specific search consultant and team. Within any large firm, there are outstanding executive search consultants, and some less than stellar performers. Focus on the right search team and consultant for you, and worry less about their firm structure.”

Related: 7 Ways to Evaluate Your Executive Search Firm

The smartest clients check a long list of references, he added. “We list our past clients specifically for this purpose,” Mr. Hanold said. “Evaluate the firms through your direct questions, and then really separate the distinctive firms from the rest through extensive referencing with three key stakeholders: 1.) Unsuccessful candidates (how was their follow-up and feedback); 2.) Clients; and 3.) Successful candidates (did you hear from them after you started and did you feel they assessed you with rigor before meeting their client).”

Simon Wan, CEO of Cornerstone International Group  said that a key benefit of hiring an executive search firm is that it is a process-driven exercise from start to finish. “This is not just with finding high quality candidates, but also takes place when assessing and recommending candidates who have the learning agility and fit to be a future leader for clients,” he said.

Jennifer Scalzi, CEO and founder of Calibrate Legal, said that appearances do matter. “One of the biggest advantages of retaining an executive search firm is that you project a sophisticated message to the marketplace that says you recognize the value of your talent and are willing to invest in an expert to help you find the very best talent,” she said.

What to Really Consider When Hiring a Search Firm
Mitch Oakley, founder and CEO of search firm Charles Aris, has developed some helpful questions to ask when your organization is considering bringing in the firepower of an executive recruitment firm.

Kathy Jordan, president and CEO at Jordan Search Consultants, said that a good search outfit can tailor its approach to the client’s specific situation. “After a recruitment firm understands your culture, strategy and process, they are equipped to create a customized recruitment approach for your organization’s particular needs,” she said.

Ultimately, said Ms. Jordan, recruitment is about partnership. “You must be comfortable with the firm you choose, and the firm must be willing to invest the time to learn not just about your position(s), but about the organization and culture as a whole,” she said. “The best recruitment partners are those who fully understand your needs, are focused on your long-term success, and care as much about finding the right people for the job as you do.”

Robin Toft, CEO of Toft Group Executive Search, which specializes in the life sciences field, said that healthcare companies must work at an incredibly fast pace to stay innovative and complete all the complex work they do.

“Their time is best spent focusing on their own work, not on the complicated work of sourcing and vetting the perfect candidates – that’s where an executive search firm is invaluable to these companies,” she said. “We help them stay focused on their own work while quickly bringing them the people they need to be even more successful.”

Umesh Ramakrishnan, a member of the office of the CEO at Kingsley Gate Partners, said he believes that the criteria for selecting an executive search firm in 2018 is vastly different from even two years ago. “It’s not about databases or who you know,” he said. “Any reputable search consultant can connect with almost any executive. It’s whether the search firm has the expertise, science and technology to increase the velocity and accuracy of the search while being completely transparent.

“The search firm that optimizes those three critical factors should be the one selected for the search,” he added.

Related: 12 Reasons Why Companies Hire Executive Search Firms

Leslie Loveless, CEO of Slone Partners, said that executive search client relationships work in one of two ways. “Contingency search may involve numerous outside independent recruiters who simultaneously present candidates, while a retained search firm acts more like a strategic business partner, discretely digging deeper into the client’s hiring needs and working collaboratively over time to find perfect matches or build highly-synchronized teams,” she said. “We’re in the retained search business because we enjoy relationships,” she added, “and solving the complex hiring challenges presented by C-level management and boards.”

She said a preponderance of her firm’s clients include venture capital and private equity concerns that require “great leadership” for their healthcare portfolio companies to protect their investments with the very best people. Executive recruiters oftentimes, she said, can lead the way.

“When considering a search firm, you will want to get to know the consulting team assigned to the search,” said Shawn Hartman VP and COO of Academic Search. “Understand who will be the primary contact with potential candidates.” Have them describe who is actually doing the recruiting, he added. “Ask about the additional team members that will lend support to understand the depth and breadth of the firm you are about to select. As the extension of your company or organization, you want to make sure that the best team is representing you to potential candidates.”

Related: This Recruiter’s Top Five Secrets for Landing Candidates

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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